On March 13, 2014, Gerrard Olivotto, a consultant working for the BC government, visited Sointula, BC to conduct a survey to measure people’s reactions to photographs of wind turbines located in various locations and terrains. Mr. Olivotto explained that the information collected will be analyzed and published, and will form the cornerstone of government policy regarding the scale and location of wind energy developments in BC. We were also told that he would make a presentation that provides “an overview of the wind energy current situation”. Simple. Or so it sounded.
Like most people in BC, I know that there are a number of issues surrounding the development and sale of energy. In many parts of North America, electricity comes from either nuclear power or the burning of fossil fuels such as coal or oil. There are significant environmental impacts with these energy sources. We need to look no further than Japan to see what can go wrong with nuclear power. And the burning of oil and coal has brought climate change to a tipping point. Replacing that energy source with “renewables”, such as solar and wind power, would allow us to avoid the disastrous environmental impacts of non-renewables.
It turns out that the trading and selling of energy is complicated. We live in a complex time, with large corporations involved in the selling of power, whatever its pedigree, as they compete for market share and prestige. Some of the largest developers of wind energy are dominant in the area of nuclear and coal power, such as the US conglomerate General Electric (GE). GE is the second largest supplier of wind generators in the world and owns BC’s Plutonic Run of the River hydroelectric project on the Toba River and the Dokie Ridge wind farm in Chetwynd, BC. It also manufactures nuclear power plants, such as the GE Mark II boiling water reactor that melted down in Fukushima in March 2011.
BC, unlike most of North America, is different when it comes to electricity. Out of Canada’s ten provinces and three territories, only four have the benefit of hydroelectric power: Manitoba, Quebec, Newfoundland and British Columbia. In BC, 99% of our energy comes from hydro power. In the 1960’s, Premiere WAC Bennett believed that government should build public infrastructure to allow the economy of BC to grow and prosper. He built roads, highways, ferries, and large public projects. And in 1961 he passed the BC Hydro Act, which created BC Hydro. Its mandate: to provide “reliable power, at low cost, for generations.” A series of large hydroelectric dams was built, providing low-cost electricity to virtually all of BC.
If we get 99% of our power from hydro power, do we need large industrial windfarms?
Wind turbines aren’t small. A 1.5 MW wind turbine of a type frequently seen in Canada has a tower 260 feet high. The rotor assembly (blades and hub) weighs 48,000 lb. The nacelle, which contains the generator component, weighs 115,000 lb. The concrete base for the tower is constructed using 58,000 lbs of reinforcing steel and contains 250 cubic yards of concrete. The base is 50 feet in diameter and 8 feet thick near the centre.
There are 24 large wind farms in Canada that produce more than 100 megawatts. The Cape Scott wind farm is one of five in BC and occupies a tenure of approximately 850 acres. It cost one-third of a billion dollars, and, obviously, the BC government is thinking about adding more of them.
Below are the questions I asked Mr. Olivotto during the meeting:
1. An opinion poll about whether wind turbines in the Sointula
viewscape are acceptable or not presupposes that an industrial wind farm might be built nearby. When will we be consulted about that time frame? What if we don’t support an industrial wind farm?
2. Support for a wind farm will vary depending on who builds it.
If it is built by BC Hydro for public benefit, that is one thing. If it is built by General Electric for lucrative profits, that’s another. It is pivotal to know beforehand who the owner/developer will be.
3. Participating in a wind farm visual approval opinion poll
suggests that the participants have implicitly consented to the construction of a wind farm, when in fact they haven’t.
4. The BC government states they will take the results of these
polls to create the basis of their wind farm policy. But recently, the BC government’s actions regarding BC Ferries and BC Hydro smart meters, to name two, have created a great deal of mistrust among BC citizens, including many who live in Sointula.
Mr. Olivotto’s smile suddenly evaporated. Instead of offering an answer to my questions, he stated that if I didn’t like the idea of a wind farm, I could bring it up at the environmental review stage. It appears that aside from this MOF viewscape survey, there will be no other public consultation process except the Environmental Assessment stage, which is mandated by law.
Each of us was given a questionnaire. Photographs were presented on the screen one at a time (there were 70 in total). Some of the photos showed wind towers far in the distance. Others showed wind turbines towering above the skyline. And some showed no turbines at all. We were asked to rate each image with an A, B, C or D, as follows:
A = “Turbines are indistinct, and form minor insignificant elements.”
B = “Turbines are clearly visible, but not intrusive.”
C = “Turbines appear fairly large in scale, and are a distinct element in the landscape.”
D = “Turbines appear large in scale, and dominate the field of view.”
It is apparent that each choice contains two separate statements.
What if we agreed with the first or the second, but not both? Well, you had to write it down anyway, even though it may not accurately reflect the person’s opinion. In fact, there were a number of scenes where I thought that the turbines were “distinct”, but didn’t form “minor insignificant elements”. There were also some “clearly visible” turbines that were intrusive, and some that weren’t. And what about the forest scenes without turbines? There was no fifth choice, like N/A. So we were told to pick one of the four regardless.
Given the time and expense incurred by the Provincial Government to conduct this survey, and given that it will form the basis of future provincial policy, these inaccuracies will have significant impacts on the final result.
My own conclusions came to this: BC is not running out of electrical power. And unlike Alberta, BC doesn’t need industrial wind farms. To my mind, erecting large, 200′ turbines on Malcolm Island would be intrusive, large in scale, and form a distinct element on the landscape. I found most of the scenes to be unacceptable to varying degrees.
Afterwards, I looked up the ownership of the Cape Scott wind farm. Sea Breeze Power sold the Cape Scott project in 2011 (prior to its construction) to GDF Suez which is co-owned by two state governments, France and the People’s Republic of China.
Like I said, the energy world is complicated.
Comments about BC’s wind farm policy can be sent to:
Olivotto Forest Research Ltd.
5441 – 1625 Fort Street
Victoria, BC V8R 6S4
Jeffrey Jones is a BC lawyer who resides in Sointula, BC and has lived on North Vancouver Island for 30 years. This article was republished from The Sointula Ripple, www.sointularipple.ca
Photo by Ernesto Andrade